Contributed by: NSU Athletic Communications
RUSTON – Hilton Brown’s first collegiate start mirrored that of the entire Northwestern State baseball team Tuesday evening.
After a tough start, both came through at the end.
Brown’s tie-breaking, two-run double highlighted a five-run ninth inning as the Demons stormed from behind to defeat rival Louisiana Tech, 8-4, at J.C. Love Field at Pat Patterson Park.
“I was looking for a good pitch, trying to stay within myself and not do too much,” said Brown, who went 2-for-4 with three RBIs. “I talked to some guys who hit off him before, and they said scoot up in the box and don’t pull off of it. Just go with it.”
By going with the pitch, Brown helped deliver the Demons’ second straight win in Ruston.
It took a quality start from Cullen McDonald to get Northwestern State (6-4) to the point where a decisive ninth-inning rally could happen.
A Brown error in the first inning set up a two-run Louisiana Tech (9-3) inning, part of an early-game surge that put the Bulldogs up 3-0 after two innings.
From there, the Bulldogs could not solve McDonald.
McDonald masterfully mixed his pitches, keeping the Bulldogs off balance through the next five innings. After allowing four hits in the first two innings, McDonald scattered a pair of two-out hits from the third through the seventh innings.
At one point, McDonald retired eight straight Bulldogs before Chris Clayton’s two-out single in the seventh. McDonald worked seven innings, allowing one earned run and striking out four.
“You’ve got to be in a position to get there, and what keeps you in that game is Cullen McDonald,” third-year head coach Bobby Barbier said. “He gave us seven innings, one earned run, and kept us there for our time. The most important thing, aside from Cullen, was seeing those guys come off the bench, seeing Hilton Brown in his first start having three RBIs. Seeing (Austin) Stegall have a big hit; Chaney Dodge get the big bunt down. Those things are important, because it means guys have bought into the team, bought into staying ready.”
Down 4-3 after Steele Netterville’s go-ahead single in the eighth inning, the Demons started their ninth-inning rally on the first pitch from Kyle Griffen (2-1).
Lenni Kunert drove a single back up the middle off Griffen, starting a run of five straight hits off the Louisiana Tech left-hander.
Peyton Davis followed Kunert’s single with one of his own before Dodge, called on for a sacrifice bunt, dropped down a perfect bunt that neither Griffen nor third baseman Tanner Huddleston could handle cleanly.
Stegall followed by shooting a 2-2 pitch through the right side to tie the game before Brown came up with the second of his two big hits, drilling a double to the right-field corner to put NSU up 6-4.
Three batters later, Caleb Ricca added a pair of insurance runs with another double.
“He’s going to be a really good player here,” Barbier said of Brown. “He’s a really talented player. He probably had some nerves in his first start. I’m very happy his work showed tonight.”
Brown concurred with his head coach’s assertion.
“I had some jitters before the game,” he said with a smile. “I kind of got sped up. I got back in the dugout and talked to my brother (Hayden Brown). He calmed me down, told me, ‘You’ve played baseball your whole life. Stay within yourself and bounce back.’”
Brown’s other hit came in Northwestern State’s three-run fifth inning, which came after Louisiana Tech starter Bryce Fagan set down the first 12 Demons he faced. J.P. Lagreco started the surge with a first-pitch home run before Brown added an RBI single that cut the lead to 3-2.
Brown had Northwestern State’s lone multi-hit game as the Demons managed just three hits in the first eight innings before a six-hit ninth.
The rally made a winner of Tyler Pigott (1-1), who got the first of two line-drive double plays in the final two innings. Jose Vasquez got the other before Louisiana Tech loaded the bases before he struck out Mason Mallard to preserve the Demons’ win.
The Demons continue their four-game road trip this weekend with their Southland Conference-opening series at Abilene Christian. First pitch of the series opener is set for 6:30 p.m. Friday in Abilene, Texas.